There are different stories about how McClellan got the nickname: "Young Napoleon". Here are some possibilities:
1) He was a great admirer of the French. (He had travelled to Russia as part of a commission before the war to study the Europeon armies and the Crimean War). He was fond of bayonet drill and drill in general. He was continually preparing his army, but never seemed to be ready.
2) He won early victories in 1861 at places such as Rich Mountain . This helped to build his reputation as well as his inflated ego. He was, after all, a kind of child prodigy in the Army. He got into West Point by special permission at age 15 and almost ended up as the top graduate of his class. He distinguished himself in the Mexican War as a junior officer. He was by far the junior member of the commission sent to Europe in 1855.
Here is a source supporting the early victories theory:
General George McClellan by Toan Tran-Phu
An offshoot of this theory maintains that he got the nickname through his arrogant behavior after taking over in Washington DC after the debacle at First Manassas.
George Brinton McClellan Biography
(See third paragraph).
3) Even though he resigned as a captain in 1857, his reputation was such that in 1861, he was immediately made a major general of volunteers. This was certainly a meteoric rise. Napoleon Bonaparte made a meteoric rise.
4) Some sources attribute the nickname to a similarity in physical grooming to Napoleon III (Not Bonaparte).
Civil War Bookshelf: Nosworthy's critique of ACW history
Based on his history and background, he seemed an excellent choice to lead the Union armies. He can be credited with superb organizational skills and was very well liked by his men in the early going. But when the time for bold action arrived, he seemed generally reluctant to grasp his opportunities.
Just who first put the label: "Young Napoleon" on him, whether a military person or a civilian, I'm unable to say. Perhaps it is similar to the nickname given to: "Stonewall Jackson" in that its unclear if it is meant to be a positive or negative nickname. It is my opinion that McClellan would have regarded it positively, though he probably would have viewed himself as being superior to either Napoleon.
Last edited on Sat Oct 6th, 2007 08:22 am by Texas Defender